There is no need for a ‘Creepy Treehouse’ in using the Web in the classroom

I love the way Web works! So, I was on FriendFeed earlier today and I saw through this link there that Paul Jones posted a note on Pownce (on which I am registered but never check) about this article in Raleigh N&O:
An iPod Touch for each student?

A Chapel Hill middle school could become the first in the country to give an iPod to every teacher and student, an experiment that would challenge teachers and administrators to ensure the hand-held devices are used as learning tools, not toys.
It’s still not clear how the iPod Touches would be used at Culbreth Middle School. And school officials know that students may use the iPod Touches more to download the new Jonas Brothers single than to tap the riches of human knowledge. But Principal Susan Wells says that to dismiss the technology as a distraction or a gimmick ignores today’s tech-driven world.
“It’s a world we better figure out, because we can’t ask our students to come into a classroom, put those things aside and sit in a row and think we’re interesting,” she said.
“We’re just not that interesting.”
Mountain View High School in Meridian, Idaho, banned the use of all iPods last year when they suspected students were using them to cheat. Principal Aaron Maybon said some students would record audio of them saying answers to test questions. Then they’d wear a baggy sweater with the iPod concealed underneath and run the ear buds through the sleeve to their wrist. When they needed an answer, they would rest their head on their hand.
“We did have to take a hard-line approach to that,” Maybon said. “You can restrict all kinds of stuff and you can drive yourself nuts trying to police all of it. They [Culbreth] are probably kind of opening themselves up to something.”
Wells said Culbreth teachers are eager to start using iPods in class.
“These teachers say this pilot signals their commitment to our students to meet them where they are, as opposed to where the teachers are comfortable,” Wells said.
“They state their commitment to teach 21st-century skills, because technology is the future for students and teachers.”

Yup, this year, when both of my kids are out of Culbreth school!
A couple of days before, John Dupuis posted (check a long comment thread on FriendFeed) a link to When Professors Create Social Networks for Classes, Some Students See a ‘Creepy Treehouse’

A growing number of professors are experimenting with Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking tools for their courses, but some students greet an invitation to join professors’ personal networks with horror, seeing faculty members as intruders in their private online spaces. Recognizing that, some professors have coined the term “creepy treehouse” to describe technological innovations by faculty members that make students’ skin crawl.

The ‘Creepy Treehouse’ is defined as, among else:

n. A situation in which an authority figure or an institutional power forces those below him/her into social or quasi-social situations.
With respect to education, Utah Valley University student Tyrel Kelsey describes, “creepy treehouse is what a professor can create by requiring his students to interact with him on a medium other than the class room tools. [E.g.] requiring students to follow him/her on peer networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook.”

So, which is it? Good or bad? I think a lot of people (including many teachers and administrators) are not familiar with the Web sufficiently enough to see it is more than one fuzzy big Scary Place. Thus they get confused when they hear Good News and Bad News one after another – which is it? If you think that Web is a single thing, you will not understand the distinctions between different parts of it and different ways of using it. Thus, either you dedicate yourself to learn more about it, or you pick one side (Good or Bad) and stick to it.
There is a difference between using online techologies in teaching and teachers inviting students to friend them on Facebook. The former is acknowledgment that kids today have a very different worldview and behavior and we need to learn it and use it for education. The latter is personal intrusiveness.
Not using the Web in teaching these days is a criminal act of mis-education. It is preparing the 21st century kids for a 19th century world. FAIL.
Or, as David Warlick says:

I’m pretty sure that it was Alan Kay who said that, “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.” Does it have to stay that way? At what point does it stop being the technology and become the medium — and become transparent?
This is a barrier for us, this sense that we’re striving to modernize classrooms by using more technology. I still do not think that the kids do this. When they go out and buy the latest game system, they are not buying the latest technology. They’re buying better games. They are buying better experiences.
Folks out there who are making valuable and sustainable uses of technology, do you still think of it as integrating technology? If not, when did that stop? When did it become sustainable?
I guess for me, it happened when I started thinking about my job as entirely about inventing and communicating, rather than helping people integrate technology.

7 responses to “There is no need for a ‘Creepy Treehouse’ in using the Web in the classroom

  1. I send my students assignments, info, class notes and news by regular group e-mail. They interact with me by e-mail, telephone and plain old coming in early (the “Breakfast Club”) or staying late (the “Desperate Souls”).
    iPods or their equivalent are ubiquitous, but they keep them under wraps during class.

  2. Do they even know how to use those ancient technologies? Do you know kids use e-mail ONLY when adults force them to? Not between themselves. Do they also type on mechanical typewriters? Can they really be excited about your course? Those are the questions that every Web-phobic teacher needs to ask oneself – then go on and learn how kids use the new technologies, and how to adopt them in order to get the kids involved. A lot has to do with looking for the mouse. They get it instinctively – we are the anachronisms who will have to learn and adopt our teaching styles and techniques to them. One-to-many does not work any more. Many-to-many, even when there is a clear hierarchy (who is the teacher and who are the students) is a must these days.

  3. I’m on Facebook, and I have some students as friends, but I don’t ever ask them. If they ask me to friend them, ok, but there’s no way I’d be that intrusive. I sometimes think it’s a little creepy from my end too, realizing that everything I put up there is visible to them, so I do censor myself more than if they weren’t there. I can’t imagine asking them, though. I’m surprised at what they sometimes put up knowing that some of their teachers can see it. Assignments and messages about class I keep strictly through the campus email and online system.

  4. Well, it was the kids that got me onto Youtube, which is full of cool math/science videos. They appreciate the links I send them. My own kids (27, 25, 17) let me know that being on facebook would be “creepy”.

  5. Bora,
    This is the line that struck me in that article:

    ..challenge teachers and administrators to ensure the hand-held devices are used as learning tools, not toys.

    I guess that this points to phase one. I think that phase two is to discover that a learning tool can be a toy, and that a toy can be a learning tool.
    Thanks for bringing this project to the attention of others.

  6. David:
    Anyone who’s taken a high school or college-level math class in the last fifteen years could tell you that. The staggering number of games available on — some of quite high quality — is evidence that teachers are giving the kids tools that the kids understand way better than they do. As further proof — look at TI’s latest calculator model, the nSpire. It’s incredibly powerful, on a par with an iPod touch or a late-model Palm — but TI crippled it horribly so that students wouldn’t be writing games in math class. While they’ve given it some programming functionality, it still lags far behind its less powerful brethren. Considering the graphing calculator has probably replaced the home computer as the average student’s first exposure to programming, this seems very short-sighted.

  7. Being on facebook is creepy? No. Friending students? Yes. Using Twiiter for class discussion purposes is creepy? Please.
    I’ve only been a teacher for 12 years, but I’ve owned domains for 14. My entire career has been a neverending battle to get kids to use the “next” tech- in the 90s it was PowerPoint and Inspiration, in 2002 it was blogs, in 2004 it was MySpace and since then it’s been wikis and tagging.
    I can’t get my peers to use Twitter, though a bunch do use Facebook. I just don’t see what Facebook is good for in classroom terms. We have Blackboard for the “online space” component.
    The hoodie/hand earbud trick is one that the kids used back with Walkmans. I can’t believe this is a new problem in that school. I remember the first time I realized that cell phones had cameras because kids were taking pictures of tests and having friends text back answers- that was over 5 years ago.
    Even the most basic tech- pencil and paper- has subversive uses (notes, threats, grafitti) in schools.